Two 19th century wickies, lighthouse keepers, find themselves stranded by the weather on an island that tests their sanity and identity.
I did not realize, until watching the behind the scenes video after the film, that Robert Eggers, director of The Witch, was behind this one. It makes sense though as it has his dark and constant unsettling atmosphere that teeters on the balance of mystical folklore and explainable events.
The Lighthouse sets the tone through a blend of maritime lore, struggles with identity, and desperate hardships that lead to rationing and constant alcohol consumption, that ultimately lead to a gritty and surreal experience. Robert and Max Eggers do an excellent job of masking the reality behind both characters as well as the reality behind their situation. The films pacing, editing, acting, story line, texture all work together to create a world that feels busy and energetic even though on paper it would appear to be a boring and lonely situation. There is an excitement and uncertainty that maintains throughout the entire film.
This excitement is kept alive through the constant battle between the two protagonists and their battle for recognition. Both long for respect, yet maintain a cloud of mystery around their persona. Their power struggle is both a battle of hierarchy as well as a challenge between superstition and bullheaded individualism. Both characters struggle to maintain their demeanor and poise.
It is clear, however, that they embody a progression of growth, a little and a big. This can be seen through the differing positions that they hold at the lighthouse, the camaraderie they have while drinking, and their desire to accomplish the task at hand and maintain their duties while under distress. We see these characters as two phases of the same life. They play off one another like youth staring into the eyes of their future more so than a father and son. As an aside, the decision to resort to drinking the lighthouse fuel reminded me of the determination Freddie Quell in The Master, when he resorts to drinking torpedo fuel out of desperation.
With that said, the closer they begin to resemble one another, the more they start to stand apart. This can be seen with older Tom’s paranoia, authoritarian mindset, and guarded nature that leads to the audience to wonder if he is gas lighting younger Tom or if younger tom is experiencing mania.
The contrast in storytelling is highlighted by the cinematography. The stark contrasts found throughout the film help amplify the psychological contrasts as well as set the mood for the film. The black and white film used augments the texture seen throughout the film, masking by the characters, the setting, and almost every other aspect of the film. The decision to go black and white was good as it brought the viewer back to the time, it created a more dynamic environment for the characters, and highlighted every imperfection and further humanized their character.
Above all, The Lighthouse does a great job of hiding the “reality” being experienced by the protagonists. We as the viewer are unsure of the reality and that keeps us guessing. The ability to maintain the balance of questionable thought and reality is a tight rope and the Eggers’ succeed here.
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke
Written by: Robert Eggers & Max Eggers
Edited by: Louise Ford
Music by: Mark Korven
Starring: Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson
Runtime: 1h 49m
Genre: Psychological Thriller, Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Distributed by: A24